The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2019, which was cleared by Lok Sabha on Monday. This caused a stir not only in the political houses but also across the nation, as the Amendment received mixed reactions.
The Bill has basically amended two sections i.e . Section 16 and Section 27 of the Right To Information Act 2005 (Act), but its implications are said to be highly political. Bill proposes to change the fixed term of the Information Commissioner, and make their pay and service conditions subject to the executive rules to be made by the Government. As per the current Act the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners have fixed term of five years, but the new Bill changes that and instead, states “ for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. Even the term of State Information Commissioner is curtailed by the Amendment.
Other Section, which has been amended i.e. Section 27, will now give rule-making power to the Central Government to determine the pay, allowances and service conditions of Information Commissioner. The present Act states that the salary and allowances of Chief Information Commissioner and Chief Election Commissioner will be same, which are fixed as per the provisions of the Constitution. It is assumed that the RTI Act has consciously given similar status to both in order to ensure that they function independently and autonomously.
Although while introducing the Bill, Jitendra Singh, Minister of State of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension, said that Information Commission was a statutory body and it was an anomaly to equate it to a constitutional body like Election Commission. Making Information Commissioners equal to the status of Election Commissioners means that they are at par with Supreme Court judges. However, the orders of Information Commissioners can be challenged in the High Court. Therefore, there is an apparent anomaly in the status of Information Commissioners, which needs to be rectified, explained the Minister. The attempt of the government is not to undermine the autonomy of Information Commissioners, but to bring in uniformity in services, said the Minister. He also pointed out that the Sections 12(4) of the Act, which ensures the autonomy of Information Commissioners, has been left untouched by the amendment. The process of appointment of Information Commissioners as specified in Section 12(3) has also been kept the same, the Minister added.
The political parties along with former Information Commissioner have assailed the Bill, as they said that this Bill will weaken the whole structure and will make them subservient to the political executive and will defy the whole purpose of the Act itself.
Sourabh Kumar Mishra
Senior Legal Associate
The Indian Lawyer